Echolocation by the harbor porpoise: Life in coastal waters

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The harbor porpoise is one of the smallest and most widely spread of all toothed whales. They are found abundantly in coastal waters all around the northern hemisphere. They are among the 11 species known to use high frequency sonar of relative narrow bandwidth. Their narrow biosonar beam helps isolate echoes from prey among those from unwanted items and noise. Obtaining echoes from small objects like net mesh, net floats, and small prey is facilitated by the very high peak frequency around 130 kHz with a wavelength of about 12 mm. We argue that such echolocation signals and narrow band auditory filters give the harbor porpoise a selective advantage in a coastal environment. Predation by killer whales and a minimum noise region in the ocean around 130 kHz may have provided selection pressures for using narrow bandwidth high frequency biosonar signals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 52
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


  • Biosonar
  • Clutter
  • Coastal waters
  • Echolocation
  • Harbor porpoise
  • Hearing
  • Noise
  • Phocoena phocoena


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